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Problem customer, need advice!

This June I did a show in Santa Monica. My instincts told me the
last sale of the show was going to be trouble, but I did it, anyway.
Forgive the length of this, but I want to give all the details, so
that anyone wanting to respond can have the whole picture.

This person was looking for a gift for his girlfriend, and literally
walked the show and returned to my booth many times during the day,
to deliberate on whether or not this particular ring was the =93right=94
one. The next day he brought his daughter to help participate in the
decision. LITERALLY, all day, they kept coming back and spending 10
minutes each time they looked, discussed - on and on. FINALLY, in
the last hour of the show he made a decision and purchased a ring.
(My exhibitor neighbors were taking bets on whether this person would
actually buy or not!) It was an $800 cash sale (which included a
small discount)

As usual with rings as gifts, it was the wrong size, but they loved
the style. I told them I would re-weave another ring shank and give
them the same style for the top of the ring.

I projected a time frame to finish it, and was late. I had a
pinched nerve in my neck which kept me from being in the studio for
more than 1 hour at a time for over two weeks. (I=92m pretty much a
one-man-band). Then, of course, my show schedule was =93on=94, and I t=
him it would be another month due to my circumstances.

About 2-3 weeks after he received the ring, he called and told me
that it wasn=92t the same ring at all and he wanted his money back.
(Meanwhile, due to the detail on the top of the ring, in order to
save time, I took the top off of the original ringand will tell me it
was not the same (??). He=92s saying the detail on the top of the rin=
is not the same (??), and that the detail in the woven ring shank is
not the same (??).

He truly believes this is NOT like the original ring, which
completely confounds me, as I know it is. I do one-of-a-kind styles.
This particular ring was NOT my favorite, and I was so happy that he
purchased it!

I offered him a credit, but he only wants his money back. At this
time of year, I simply do not HAVE an extra $800 to through his way.
I=92ve already lost money on this project, if I consider my time worth

After several =93discussions=94 via the phone, he returned the ring vi=
registered mail (return receipt) after I told him that this, in NO
WAY, can be interpreted that I am accepting it as a return. He now
wants to resume =93discussions=94 again.

I really want to stand firm with this person - I feel taken
advantage of (and clearly, so does he). I=92ve been in business for
six years and have never had this problem.

I have another show in the same place at the beginning of November,
and know he will be there. I want to resolve this quickly, and I do
NOT want to bring this bad energy into my booth, or have him spread
it around.

My only mistake in this transaction, was that it took more time than
what was originally projected. (Actually, my real mistake was
taking his business in the first place, when my instincts told me it
would come back to bite me!).

What I find interesting, is that I=92ve discussed this with a few men,
and their immediate reaction is to just tell him =93too bad - that was
the deal=94. When I=92ve discussed it with a couple of women, they s=
=93give him the money back - not worth the trouble=94.

Is it worth $800 to just make this go away, or should I stand firm
in the fact that he got the exact ring that he originally purchased?
I would appreciate a response from anyone who=92s had a similar

I’ve had similar situations with rings - I’ve had entire orders
returned because the customer wanted different sizes, even admitting
they ordered the wrong size in the first place. With my schedule
right now, I will offer to replace the ring, but not at a rush - I
will do it at no charge as time permits - 4-6 weeks. I don’t think
that’s a bad deal considering many places would say “no” or charge a

The problem that I see, is that if you are doing shows and selling
items with those kind of prices, you really need to protect yourself
and have a return/exchange policy in writing to give to the customer
upon selling the item. A written policy will avoid these problems.

It seems you may need to return his money. Is there a possibility
he would take an exchange for another piece of jewelry?


More than likely he broke up with the person he bought the gift for
and is now trying to recover at your expense! When I make a one of a
kind custom piece for a customer when they put down the cash and
walk out it’s a done deal. when you do orders like that and have to
remake a good idea is to photograph the original. You could back
yourself up then. ask him if you can talk to the person he gave it
to and is there another piece of jewelry they might be interested
in. a word of advice, once a stepchild-always a stepchild. I have
more than once decided a hammer was a fitting end to a project that
didn’t work right! another thing is to have a sign that says all
sales final and any alterations are at the customers risk.


Hello Cynthia,

Your characterization of the problem is exactly right. You have
every right to refuse even a credit. The question is, which is more
important, winning your point and keeping the money or putting up
with the hassel. Because, when the next show comes around you are
going to have to tell this moron off. Does he really believe what
he is saying? Doubtful, maybe the lady in question saw the light
and dumped the bum and he is just trying to get out of the purchase.
I have had a similar problem a few time over the past twenty-six
years and have usually opted to tough it out. But, I am a macho guy
and when the dust clears I often wonder if it was worth the wear and
tear on my Wa. In Massachusetts the law basically says “a deal is
a deal”. This is a principal that goes back to English common law.
So long as the policy is posted in plain sight (I have it printed on
my sales slips) The retailer is under no obligation to accept a
return at all. THE CLIENT BUYS IT, HE OWNS IT. As I tell my
clients; as a courtesy to them I will accept a return within 10 days
for store credit only. I have been sued twice over this policy and
won each time.

Is it worth it to hang tough, I definately think so, at times! Hope
to see you in Tucson.


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The only good transaction is a transaction that pleases both the
buyer and seller not just one person.

My suggestion is to give the money back and move on. They say that
if you make a client happy you are lucky if they mention their
experience to one or two people but if you make a client unhappy
they will tell twenty people. Those twenty people will most likely
tell someone else.

This is a clear case of you not understanding this customer. As a
layman this person may not have understood that a handmade piece
will be different each and every time it is created. All he knew
was that he liked the look of the one you sold him and that is what
he expected unless you made it perfectly clear that there could be a
difference in the look when the new one was finished.

You also promised a time that this piece would be finished and you
did not meet that time schedule. Keep in mind that you said this
was to be a gift. Put yourself in this persons shoes. If you
ordered something that you were going to give as a gift and it
arrived 4 weeks after the occasion it would loose it’s special
meaning. This person obviously put a great deal of time into making
sure they purchased just the right item for the person they were
giving the gift to.

I know it hurts to give up a sale but in order to save face and your
reputation you should not only give back the money but also include
some small gift to win this person and everyone they know back.

Good Luck
Greg DeMark

Hi Cynthia. What an awful situation! You have my sympathies (and
that’s why I’m still chicken to offer rings - yikes!).

In the world of business there’s some really good age-old advice and
sayings, and one of them is that a happy customer will tell a few
folks about you but an unhappy customer will tell the whole world -
everyone they know. I’m afraid it doesn’t matter what the truth is,
it’s what HE believes to be the case, and that is that it’s not the
same ring and he’s decided he’s unhappy.

Can you weigh whether this person has the potential to harm your
future business? Do you do business in that community a lot? Since
you don’t have a storefront, that might be better.

Many smart marketing people have said that the seller should always
be in the position of “solving the customer’s problems” and it sounds
like you have tried mightily to do so. But it sounds like he is a
bully and you are too nice!

Do you have your policy on no cash refunds visibly posted? Did you
have a written contract with him? If not, then it will be just a
matter of having to talk with him again and face his negative energy.
One way to deal with people like this is to try to de-fuse them
before they start. If he’s really obnoxious, call him politely on it

  • ask him why he’s bullying you when you’ve tried so hard to solve
    his problems, twice – once when it didn’t fit, and now that he
    doesn’t like it, tell him it IS the same ring, and he can’t return it
    because he changed his mind (did he break up with her? Possibly – or
    maybe she dumped him-- too high maintenance!). Show him a picture of
    the original!

Good luck, stand firm if you can’t refund.


forgive me if i’m wrong ,but it sounds like you did the rework for
free. my take is that’s more than enough service to make a customer
happy. typically if you buy it you own it.

If he persists in demanding his money back i would advise you to
tell him you feel threatened by his attitude and if he continues to
harass you that you will refer the matter to the authorities. It is
rediculous for him to assume that he can just return a custom item
just because he (or his girlfriend) decided not to like it.

I admit this is a kinda radical attitude but there are people out
there that need to be told in no uncertain terms that they can’t
have their way. Otherwise they just wear you down.

my two cents dave

Anyone who is in the business of selling retail to the public will
sooner or later run into this problem. I have been retailing my
jewelry at both shows and through my retail store for over 30 years.
I feel the best solution for you is to take the higher ground,
refund the money.

Continuing to deal with this situation is both physically and
emotionally draining. Let, it go and move on.

For what it’s worth,

Hi Cynthia

I know this is not what you want to hear but unless the sold item was
damaged I suggest you go back to the basic rule in business. “The
Customer is Always Right” I know you would probably want to take
this to the moral high ground but your reputation is more important
than the one sale or the money or the trouble. The customer just has
to get the benefit of the doubt even when they are wrong or you loose
in the end.

Best Regards
Harry Walter

Hi Cynthia,

Is it worth $800 to just make this go away, or should I stand firm
in the fact that he got the exact ring that he originally
purchased? I would appreciate a response from anyone who=92s had a
similar problem. 

Here’s another option to consider.

Many companies today charge a ‘restocking fee’ when & item is
returned for cash. I see no reason why the same approach couldn’t be
used with jewelry, especially one of a kind pieces.

Some of the restocking charges I’ve seen for under $100 items have
gone as high as 25%. These items were mass (in the 1000’s) produced
items. It seems to me that a 'restocking fee" approaching %50
wouldn’t be out of line, since you had to make a shank especially
for him.


dear June,

I do the show with you and have had a problem or two come up over
the last 37 years also. I completely understand that you feel you
should stand firm because you are right, but…my friend Jan Peters
of del Mano Gallery was discussing such a situation with me (
different circumstance but still, a problem client) she asked me to
consider some other factors.

  1. How miserable will it be to have to argue with a disgruntled,
    intractable customer at a show, in front of potential customers or
    at home when I should be creating or relaxing?

  2. How much time do you have to give to the negativity of thinking
    about this problem, discussing and writing about this problem? These
    are negative repercussions you may have to face if you stand your
    ground, no matter how right you are!

You have options. You can accept the ring back, charge a restocking
fee ( explain that you have limited exposure to the public and he
took the ring “out of play”, limiting your ability to sell it.
charge for the changes. Pay him the remainder in small installments
or when the ring sells again, you can reimburse the remainder.

Most of the time, most customers want to be reasonable. If you have
someone who is just not willing to meet you half way…get them out
of your life as swiftly as you can! I consider it " get away from
me" money and on the few occasions that I’ve taken that action, it
has always been a big relief to wipe my hands of folks like that. I
don’t want them wearing my work anyway!

I have a “credit refunds only” line in my order book…most of the
time I remember to have it signed, but it is on their receipt
anyway. Even so…protect your sanity at home and the upbeat vibe
at your booth and firmly tell problem people you will discuss things
with them by phone after the show and then, if you feel that
intractable or nasty vibe coming on…get them away from you and get
them out of your reality ASAP. ( show security can be enrolled to
help you keep things orderly) And don’t let other customers hear,
see or know about this…you want to maintain your exchange/return
policies as stated.

I know I’m going to take heat for this from some who think you
should go to the wall on principle. I have more important things to
invest that kind of stomach churning adrenalin in. I don’t have to
prove I’m right every time, and I don’t choose to tie myself to
people I don’t like for any longer than necessary.

You can get yourself out of this.

good luck,
Marianne Hunter
ps see you soon!

Wow, I have been in that position and its terrible. Before I do any
custom work I get a signed agreement basically saying once each step
is approved in the process- there is no turning back and no refunds
once the finished item leaves my studio. I stopped doing wedding
rings because the drama involved with some of my customers tuckered
me out- sometimes custom is not worth the hassel.

Anyway, refund the money and walk away. And next time get a signed


... I suggest you go back to the basic rule in business. "The
Customer is Always Right" 

Hello Harry,

I think that you’d find that that may be the first rule of business
in America, perhaps even North America, but elsewhere the customs in
business differ. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Europe and I can
tell you that a statement like that would not be taken lightly there,
certainly not as a de facto “rule”.

In France, for instance, it is generally felt that the customer is a
guest in the proprietor’s place of business and is expected to show a
little respect. Any transaction that takes place, especially for
something that has involved the skill and craft of the maker, is a
negotiated arrangement in that the customer respects and desires the
maker’s work and the maker is willing to take their money in exchange
for it. If either party is displeased the negotiation can simply end,

There is no doubt that such an approach can come as something of a
shock to those unused to it but has it’s benefits. If nothing else it
shifts the emphasis of the process away from the dollar and more
toward on the work itself, the skills that brought it into being and
the manner in which the transaction is conducted.

Why have I bothered to say this? Largely because Orchid is an
international community, not just an American community, and that
diversity is no small part of it’s strength. I think that it is well
worth recognizing and taking the time to remember.

Trevor F.


One of the most successful retailers on Earth is Walmart. The
reason Walmart is huge is because of Product, Price and most
importantly Customer Service. This company will take back anything,
no questions asked even if it is damaged.

Who would you more likely deal with and recommend your friends to. a
company that has a no return policy, a company that will take
returns with a 25% restocking fee, or a company with a no questions
asked return policy.

I do understand that a custom order needs to be looked at
differently, but in this case the customer was not delivered the
item on a date as promised and the customer felt it looked different
than the original. This may have been avoided by explaining in the
beginning that no two handmade pieces are ever identical which is
what adds to the beauty of owning custom jewelry. Secondly I have
learned over the years to under promise and over deliver. If I think
a job will take one week to complete I will tell the customer two
weeks. If I deliver the job in one week the customer is thrilled.
if I say it will take one week and it takes me two weeks the
customer will feel angry.

Most people that work for themselves believe that they are their own
boss and set the rules but in fact everyone of your paying customers
is your boss. Without them you have no business. Treat them right
and you are successful, Treat them wrong and they will run.

Greg DeMark

If you keep messing with this ring, you will find out that "Nothing"
will make him happy!

“It’ll be a ring from Hell”. I had a private customer like this
myself a few years back, I did say to this perfectionist, “You wont
like what ever I’ll make for you, so buy elsewhere, please!” he was
totally surprised at my request. This same ring would have come back
to haunt me…Gerry!

Hello Cynthia,

your problem sounds very similar to one I had a couple of months
ago. A customer ordered a custom made ring, provides the size and -
after I invited him several times to see the project growing - is
very happy during the process and when he picks up the ring and pays
it in full. After giving the ring to his wife, everything was wrong.
The size is 2.5 sizes too big, the design is totally different of
what he expected it to be, the craftsmanship is not o.k. etc. He
called, he harassed not only me, but also my family, my kids and my
friends. I talked with 2 different lawyers and - since I didn’t have
any written contract with him, I decided to give him his $1500 back
although it hurts to see the money going, the time and energy, but
what I got back was my sleep at night, my peace and my creativity
which went down to point zero. I gained my 4 pounds that I lost, I
could eat again.

Cynthia, I don’t want to tell you to pay him back his money, it
really depends on different things (did you have a written contract,
how bad do you really feel etc.) but all in all I would try to stay
strong. For me it looks like he regrets having spend so much money
and now he tries to get it back on your costs. Offer him to go to
small claims court with this problem, see how he reacts. Talk to a
lawyer, tell him about it. See how he reacts, but stay calm,

I hope the best for you and that this is over soon, I know it takes
a lot of energy…

Edith Schneider Jewelry
P.O.Box 52001
Palo Alto, CA 94303
(650) 813 9755

My own feeling is to refund cheerfully as a last resort. If a client
is not going to wear and enjoy a particular piece, well, life is too
short to make a big deal about it. There are people you just can’t
ever please, and over time you recognize them. Offer a credit,
refund if you must, but explain the terms in advance. I tell my
customers “If there is a problem, I want to be the first person to

Rick Hamilton


I know that $800 is a lot of money, but you probably don’t want the
headache of dealing with this person. My advice is, return the money
and forget about it! You still have the original ring to sell…
You’ll sleep better at night and be more productive during your
studio time You will be further ahead than if you spend all of your
spare time worrying about this customer

I have had this sort of problem a couple of times. Each time I have
returned the money and rid myself of the customer. It is just not
worth the aggravation!

Milt Fischbein - Jewellery Artist


I will be at that show you speak of in Nov… We must meet… :wink:
I too a one man (chick that is) jeweler.

This guy sounds like a real a–hole. Red flags would have been going
up like crazy especially since he visited you so many times. I hate
when things like this happen; no doubt its great to off an old piece,
but to what degree? Anyway, take the piece on a consignment basis,
so you can buy yourself some time to get money together and get this
guy off your back. He can’t totally think he’s going to get all his
money back since you altered the piece, Why do I think that’s a "yes"
answer?? In your sales receipt, did it say all sales final??

Our work is not commercial by no means and you need to tell him that
this was made special for him, because he ordered it. You are not in
a position to return his money at this time. (easier said than done,
I know)

Ok, so you were late on delivery…(slap,slap. shame on you!)20 I
wouldn’t lose sleep over that. He could have cancelled the order
during that time because you were late, but he didn’t…so there.20
Thank goodness it was a cash sale…if it was by credit card, you
lose. I don’t think he has a girlfriend anymore and he wants you to
take the hit… We can talk about this at nausium in a couple of
weeks. Hey, maybe he’ll show up at my booth and I’ll share my
thoughts with him on the matter. LOL

Good Luck…Take care . Look forward to meeting you. pen

Like DeDe, I stopped doing custom bridal several years ago- way too
many indecisive loonies out there! The arguments are not worth the
hassle. I make custom pieces to put in my cases for stock, but if a
customer wants to remount their stone/s, we help them select from a
catalog like Stuller, and when the mounting comes in a couple days,
we call the customer to come view it BEFORE I set any stones or size
it. At worst, it costs a couple bucks postage to return the mounting
to the mfg. In deals that seem rather iffy from the start, I tell the
customer that I will deduct return postage from their deposit that is
made at the time of order. This seems to weed out 99% of the problem
people. And remember, a deposit is not a negotiable item after the
deal is struck, thats why you request a deposit to start the order-
it commits the customer. If you are not willing to enforce the
terms of sale that you lay down to start, then don’t set these terms.
Over the years, I’ve had my share of custom deals that went wrong due
to break ups, lost jobs, deaths, etc…, and it simply became an area
that just wasn’t worth the hassle anymore. Recently, I started to
make an exception to my own rule of ‘no more custom bridal’, and I
have regretted it ever since. I made a very elaborate set of 4 rings
in 14kY & W, 18kY, and 24k nugget for an electronics engineer about
10 years, per his extremely detailed drawings. All was well till
about 1 yr ago, when his wife developed a serious nickel allergy to
her 3 rings. The customer wants to remake 2 of them now, in platinum,
at his expense of about $3500, and has started in with the elaborate
drawings again. After 2 different times of believing we had struck a
definite deal, he shows up each time about a week later, asking if I
have anymore new ideas to add to things. I had roughed out basic
waxes each time for his initial approval, only to find that he was
still searching for final plans. A 3rd and final time, we reach
agreement, and once again he shows up a week later, only this time,
on a hunch, I didnt bother to do any wax work. I was right again,
because as he walked in my door, his 1st words were " Well, have you
done anymore brainstorming on this project?" I gave him his $1500
deposit back and canceled the job completely, knowing that I should
have stuck to my own rules to start with. Currently I am only out
about $200-300.00 worth of time. My point- If you make a rule or set
a term, stick to it, even if it means turning down certain types of
jobs. Customers who ask you to break your own rules are the ones you
don’t want in the 1st place. Your rules are there to make you
profitable,i.e. happy, and when you start running your business
according to your customers rules, you ain’t happy, i.e. profitable!
Send those people packin’… to drag your competitor down, not you.
Ed in Kokomo